May I draw Members’ attention to my declaration in the register? I do not intend to give way in view of the fact that so many Labour Members still wish to participate in this debate.
The central contention of the Opposition motion, which seems to have got lost in many of the speeches that we have heard, is that
“given that the participation age has now risen to 18 years old, it makes no sense for the post-16 education budget to be treated with less importance than the 5-16 schools budget”.
That is the central contention, to which we have not yet had an adequate reply from the Government. Indeed, the impression that they may have inadvertently given today and that they certainly have given over the preceding months if not years is that this matter is a poor relation. One of the leading principals of Coventry’s colleges has said that the Government do not treat post-16 education with the respect and priority that it deserves. Certainly, what we have heard today tends to enforce that unfortunate view.
I wish to talk briefly about Coventry, because we have two major FE colleges, City college and Henley college. In the case of City college, it is not a question of what will or will not come out of the spending review, which not just those involved in post-16 education but everybody is awaiting with trepidation. Rather, it is the fact that this year the Skills Funding Agency reviewed the college’s budget and promised it around £100,000 extra, against which it has committed resources and money to provide apprenticeships—the very area in which I know the Minister of State is most interested. The college looks like delivering and perhaps even over-delivering because of that increase in the budget, but because of the delays in the budgets and in approving them—not for future education spending, but for the current year—to which Members on both sides of the House have referred, the college still does not have any certainty. Can the Minister reply to City further education college in Coventry and let us know the situation?
The other major college—they both do tremendous work in Coventry—is Henley college. I want to quote the principal, who reinforces, I regret to say, the general impression that the Government have given. He speaks as someone who has been in further education for 38 years. He ends his letter to me by referring to the letter, which the Minister must have seen by now, from the principals of well over 100 colleges—I thought at one point it was 140—to the Government and his Secretary of State. After 38 years in the further education profession, the principal of Henley college says:
“I feel that the manner of this government’s treatment of local further education colleges shows a deep contempt and equally deep ignorance of the invaluable work they do to improve their communities”.
The cuts that FE colleges face and the cuts they are undergoing—14% in the last Parliament—bear that out. From somebody as deeply committed as the principal of Henley college in Coventry, that seems a very sad epitaph to the record of this Government and this Secretary of State and their attitude towards further education.